EdBoard: make an effort to engage with the campus community this semester
Since March 2020, the depressing phrases “the new normal” and “these unprecedented/uncertain/trying times,” among others, have been flying around faster than the coronavirus. Accompanying them have been systemic changes.
As we all know, distance learning has been ubiquitous and damaging to the health and education of students around the world, and Carnegie Mellon University is no exception. It does not help that the traditional on-campus experiences — club socials, the Fair, buggy rolls, Spring Carnival — have either been canceled or transitioned to virtual platforms like Zoom.
Faced with such obstacles and disconcerting transitions, we naturally feel isolated and disconnected from the campus community. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have spent the first few years of our Carnegie Mellon experience in Pittsburgh, the switch to a purely virtual existence has not been as hard as for current first- and second-year students; after all, having established friend groups and shared memories on campus are definitely boons to our mental and social health.
The present challenge facing the university is a daunting one: how do we build a sense of community when we are rarely allowed to even be in the same room with others? How do we ensure that new Carnegie Mellon students, some of whom have never set foot in Pittsburgh, are still able to immerse themselves in our campus culture?
Much to the university administration’s credit, their efforts in converting the Carnegie Mellon experience to a virtual one are commendable. From ensuring that classes are transitioned to an online environment — and designing accommodations for those that cannot be taught virtually — to designing systems for campus resources and facilities to function safely and securely, the simple fact that educational and research objectives can still be pursued is a testament to the hard work and dedication that faculty and staff have put in over the past months.
What’s most refreshing is that the cultural aspects of being a Carnegie Mellon student were not forgotten amidst the shift, and though details are still lacking, it is comforting to know that events like Spring Carnival and the Fair are still around, albeit in virtual incarnations.
However, efforts on the part of the university are only half of the equation. What truly makes virtual classes and events engaging and worthwhile is attendance by the very students for whom they were designed.
Understandably, virtual events are a hard sell. After spending all day watching lectures on your computer, the last thing you want to do is spend another hour or two on Zoom when you could be sleeping or binging Netflix. What’s more, socializing online is awkward as you are often just staring at people in their little squares. Deprived of any physical proximity, human interactions feel distinctly impersonal.
It is hard to argue with those points, but what it ultimately comes down to is a question of effort. Socializing and engaging took initiative before COVID-19 — and it sure is harder now — but despite the isolation-induced fatigue, it is still vital to make an effort to attend events and meet new people. The pandemic is not going away any time soon, and part of adapting to the changed status quo is living with the reality that most of our day-to-day interactions are going to be virtual. Instead of passively embracing that fact, we should make the most of our situation and take advantage of the frequent and instantaneous opportunities for making connections. Besides, in a virtual space where everyone is equidistant, chances are you might just meet someone who you otherwise might never have ever encountered.
It is not to say that you should attend every single event that comes across your radar or aggressively try to make friends with everyone you meet. As we move forward in this semester and the semesters that follow, our singular focus should be on taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, and socially, and to guard ourselves against the burnout that is all too common nowadays. If spending time alone reading a book or catching up on a good TV show is your preferred way of recharging, by all means, indulge in those activities.
However, if you find yourself bored on a Wednesday night just casually scrolling through social media feeds and an event pops up, seriously consider attending. Not only will it brighten up the day of those who put in time and effort to set up the event, but you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Not only might you learn something new or meet someone new, but it will also help you feel just a little closer to your fellow students and community, all from the comfort of your own home.
Just remember: carpe diem, and you only get out of it what you put into it.